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Sumo: The Last Man Standing

The sixth and final professional Sumo tournament is held in November in beautiful Fukuoka. This year, due to Covid, The Fukuoka Grand Sumo Tournament is being hosted at the Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo. Seating is divided into tatami mats around the ring or arena seats, all of which are prized and highly sought after. 


What is the fascination with Sumo? It is Japan’s national sport, and while it may seem simple, there are countless techniques to learn for mastery of this Japanese Martial Art. 


Sumo means “striking one another.” Deeply rooted in tradition and religion, the first recorded match was in 23 BC making it one of the oldest sports in the world. Over time its popularity has survived from the Emperor’s Court to public arenas. 

The ring is made of clay and sand. One bout consists of one round. Opponents throw salt to purify the ring and then crouch into position before lunging at each other with their fists. The aim is to force the opponent to the ground or outside the ring, and the winner is determined by the last man standing in the ring. 


Unlike the general population, top division Japanese Sumo wrestlers weigh an average of 366 lbs. And yet, there is no weight class, so training in their stables includes weight gain for extra advantage. In order to achieve that weight and still maintain the required physical fitness, there are strict rules to follow in the daily life of a Sumo wrestler governing what time they wake up in the morning, to what they are allowed to wear. They must grow their hair long in order to form a top knot hair style. They are not allowed to drive cars—in part because for many it is not even physically possible. They are not allowed to eat breakfast, but after a large lunch are expected to nap. All these stipulations are aimed at enabling the wrestler to compete more effectively. 

The traditional lunch for a Sumo Wrestler is called chankonabe, which is available to the public at various restaurants in Tokyo. This hearty simmering stew consists of fish, chicken, meatballs and vegetables all cooked at the table in a richly flavoured broth. It is basically all the nutrition one might need, and in very large quantity. 


Since Sumo wrestlers are ranked in six divisions, this year-end Fukuoka Grand Sumo Tournament is the last chance for a must-win performance, and therefore attracts serious attention and fanfare across Japan.


(Written by Adam Waxman for JNTO)


Adam Waxman is the Publisher of DINE and Destinations magazine, and has written for several travel guides from Fodor’s to Lonely Planet. Adam has lived and worked in Kyoto and Tokyo, and is passionate about Japan travel.  For 2 consecutive years, he has been appointed by the Commissioner of Japan Tourism Agency, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Tourism, as the member of Advisory Board





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